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White House: Franken Admitted Wrongdoing, Trump Hasn't; Special Counsel Mueller Seeks Talk With Man Who Set Up Trump Jr.'s Meeting With Russians; Concern Over Delay In North Korean Missile And Nuke Test. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 17, 2017 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Seeking evidence. CNN has learned that special counsel Robert Mueller is trying to talk with the British publicist who arranged a controversial meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin. Does he have incriminating information?

[17:00:26] Double standard? The White House faces questions of presidential hypocrisy as President Trump lashes out at Senator Al Franken's sex harassment scandal but stays silent on Roy Moore. And what is the Trump team saying about the women who have accused the president himself?

Down is up. As congressional Republicans move forward with their plans to overhaul the tax system, a new study shows one bill would increase taxes for many Americans in the long term, instead of reducing them. Who would really benefit from GOP tax reform?

And pause button. A sudden and puzzling lull in North Korea's defiant missile launches and nuclear tests. Is Kim Jong-un succumbing to pressure from China, clearing the way for talks with the U.S., or is he planning something sinister?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. The White House facing a flurry of questions about President Trump's attacks on Democratic Senator Al Franken, who apologized after a woman said he kissed and groped her a decade ago. When asked about the difference between the accusations against Franken and the more than a dozen women who have accused the president of misconduct, the White House said the senator has, quote, "admitted wrongdoing" and the president hasn't.

Also, a source familiar with the special counsel's Russia investigation tells CNN that Robert Mueller and his team are in talks with an attorney for a British publicist who set up that 2016 Trump Tower meeting between a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump Jr. Investigators want Rob Goldstone to come to the United States to talk to Mueller's team, but no date has been set; and Goldstone has not been subpoenaed.

And new tonight, U.S. military officials are trying to figure out why North Korea hasn't conducted a missile test in over two months. After a flurry of rocket launches and underground nuclear tests, the Kim Jong-un regime's aggressive weapons program appears to be in a lull. But there is deep concern North Korea may still be using the pause to set up its cyber operations.

We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including Congressman John Garamendi of the Armed Services Committee. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.

Let's begin with the White House defense of the president's attack on Senator Al Franken while staying silent on Roy Moore. Our White House correspondent Sara Murray is joining us.

Sara, the Trump team is walking a rather delicate tight rope on this, since the president himself has been accused by at least 13 women.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Let the charges of hypocrisy fly.

There are plenty of questions about why the president has decided to weigh in on accusations against a Democratic senator while staying mum largely about accusations against a GOP Senate hopeful, and, of course, all of this just puts the limelight back on allegations against the president himself.


MURRAY (voice-over): President Trump's reaction to sexual assault allegations and his own history of alleged misconduct with women under new scrutiny today. The president ignoring questions about the allegations against Alabama Senate hopeful Republican Roy Moore for days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should Roy Moore step aside?

MURRAY: But quickly firing off a tweet attacking Democratic Senator Al Franken for a photo in which he appears to touch a woman while she's sleeping. "The Al Frankenstein picture is really bad. Speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures two, three, four, five and six while she sleeps?"

Franken has apologized for his actions and has welcomed an investigation, while Moore maintains he's innocent.

ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA: The "Washington Post" has brought some scurrilous false charges -- not charges, allegations. Which I have emphatically denied time and time again.

MURRAY: But Trump's decision to weigh in on Franken immediately drawing comparisons to the president's past behavior. During the presidential campaign, a 2005 "Access Hollywood" tape came to light, showing Trump boasting about groping women.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, I'm automatically attracted to beautiful. I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. You just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.


TRUMP: Grab them by the (EXPLETIVE DELETED). You can do anything.

MURRAY: Trump apologized after the tape was made public.

TRUMP: Anyone who knows me knows these words don't reflect who I am. I said it. I was wrong. And I apologize.

MURRAY: But afterwards, more than a dozen women came forward and accused Trump of sexual misconduct or assault.

[17:05:06] TRUMP: The stories are total fiction. They're 100 percent made up.

MURRAY: Taking aim at their looks...

TRUMP: She would not be my first choice.

MURRAY: ... and threatening lawsuits that he never actually filed.

TRUMP: All of these liars will be sued after the election.

MURRAY: Today, the White House dismissed any similarities between Franken's misconduct and allegations against the president.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think in one case specifically, Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing and the president hasn't. I think that's a very clear distinction.

MURRAY: When it comes to Moore, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders wouldn't say whether Trump believes the women making allegations against him and said Moore's fate ultimately lies with Alabama's governor and the voters.

SANDERS: The president certainly finds the allegations extremely troubling, as I stated yesterday. And he feels like it's up to the governor and the state -- the people in the state of Alabama to make a determination on whether or not they'd delay that election or whether or not they support and vote for Roy Moore.


MURRAY: Now the White House has also said the president believes Roy Moore should step aside if these allegations are true, but it's pretty clear the president does not want to get involved in this race.

As for the Alabama governor, Kay Ivey had said she's not going to delay this election. She also said she does plan to vote for Roy Moore.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sara Murray over at the White House. Thank you. There's also breaking news in the Russia investigation. A source is

now telling CNN that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is trying to arrange a talk with the British publicist who set up the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump Jr.

Our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, is here with more.

Jessica, Jared Kushner attended that meeting. Paul Manafort, who has since been indicted. He also attended that meeting.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And it was that publicist, Rob Goldstone, who actually first pitched the meeting to Donald Trump Jr., promising that it would deliver dirt on Hillary Clinton, which Trump Jr. says never actually happened.

Investigators want Goldstone, who's overseas, to come to the U.S. to talk to the special counsel. Now this is an invitation to talk and not a subpoena, and no date has been established yet.

Neither Goldstone's attorneys nor the special counsel are commenting on this right now, and the revelation does come at the same time congressional investigators are implying that Jared Kushner has not been forthcoming in handing over key documents.


SCHNEIDER (on camera): Tonight, the Senate Judiciary Committee is calling Jared Kushner's disclosures into question, labelling what he submitted so far incomplete and demanding more documents.

The letter, sent by Chairman Chuck Grassley and top Democrat Dianne Feinstein, points to revelations Monday that Donald Trump Jr. exchanged direct messages with WikiLeaks over Twitter during the campaign. Trump Jr. e-mailed Jared Kushner and other top campaign officials, telling them WikiLeaks had made contact. The committee wants Kushner to hand over the e-mails.

They also want all documents relating to a so-called Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite. Kushner's communications with former national security advisor Michael Flynn and any e-mails relating to his firing. All documents related to his security clearance. Kushner has had to update his forms three times for not reporting several meetings with foreign officials. And all communications with Sergei Millian, a Russian businessman who the "Washington Post" reported is a source for the dossier.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: He's definitely apparently omitting documents, and that is the reason that I have long advocated subpoenas for all of the documents. That's the only way we will know whether he's producing all of them. He certainly is doing himself no favor by withholding some, apparently. And I think he ought to be subpoenaed to appear before the committee in open under oath at a hearing.

SCHNEIDER: Kushner's lawyer releasing this statement: "We provided the Judiciary Committee with all relevant documents that had to do with Mr. Kushner's calls, contacts or meetings with Russians during the campaign and transition, which was the request," adding Kushner will continue to voluntarily cooperate.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO ROBERT MUELLER: I don't think it's obstruction. I think he's saying, "Look, Congress, write us a clear letter, and we'll give you a response to your clear letter."

SCHNEIDER: Meanwhile, the special counsel has subpoenaed the Trump campaign, according to sources. The subpoena seeks more records based on expanded search terms, suggesting investigators believe there are still documents that haven't been handed over.

The campaign had provided documents to the special counsel that had also been given to congressional investigators.

One source describes the request as covering a large amount of material. The Trump campaign hasn't responded to requests for comment.

TRUMP: Thank you.

SCHNEIDER: And in Washington today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was forced to recuse himself from the Russia investigation after he initially failed to disclose he met with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak twice during the campaign, made light of the situation at the same hotel where he encountered Kislyak at a speech during the campaign.

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Is Ambassador Kislyak in the room? Before I get started here. Any Russians?

[17:10:06] SCHNEIDER: And on Russian television this week -- Kislyak joking about the investigation, saying any list of his contacts with Americans would be too long to list during the show.


SCHNEIDER: So some lighthearted comments there.

But in the meantime, the special counsel's office is also planning to interview key figures at the White House in the next two weeks, according to sources.

On the list, White House communications director Hope Hicks, also White House counsel Don McGahn. Both were involved in the campaign. Of course, Hope Hicks started with the Trump Organization in 2014. She was a key player in the early days throughout the campaign and, of course, now, Wolf, within the administration as White House communications director.

BLITZER: Yes, it's interesting they're going to question her, as well, about all of this. Thanks very much. Jessica Schneider reporting.

Let's talk about all of this and more with Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of California. He's a key member of the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: Sure. Good to be with you Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots to discuss. What do you make of the president's silence when it comes to Roy Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate, while attacking your Democratic colleague Al Franken?

GARAMENDI: I'm reminded of that old saw: those who live in glass houses shouldn't be throwing stones. That stone bounced back right to him.

Obviously, the president has a very, very serious problem with boorish behavior. It's been repeated over and over again. Certainly, his denial that never happened was just pushed aside by 13 -- 12, 13 women coming forward. It goes on and on.

The real problem here is this Russia investigation, in addition to the fact that the president's entire campaign opened the door for very -- very, very bad behavior on the part of many people. It made it, you know, possible to be a bully at the top of the heap. You can be a third-grade bully and get away with it if you're president or running for president.

That worked its way right down to the kindergarten class that my daughter was teaching last fall -- two falls ago when all of this was going on.

In addition to that, I've got five daughters, and all of this that's going on about the way in which men across this entire political spectrum and in the boardroom and in the legislature and in Congress are engaging in these activities. And I just think about my own kids as they were growing up and even now as adults. And I'm going, it's a good thing that the women are speaking up. It really is. It's going to put a stop to a lot of problems that have occurred over a long period of time.

BLITZER: Let's go through some of the specifics. First of all, should Senator Al Franken resign from his seat?

GARAMENDI: Well, think there ought to be a very thorough ethics investigation with all of this information put on the table, I think back to maybe 20 years ago, when Senator McConnell led an investigation that actually led to the resignation of a senator. That's the proper way to go at it. Go at it quickly, get it on the table and, if the -- if this is a one-off situation, maybe, maybe not. But if it's a pattern, as we apparently find in the Roy Moore situation, then it becomes not more serious but, you know, that leads then to a question for the senators, as well as for Franken to say, "OK, it's time to go."

But right now let's get that investigation up and underway. We don't have to wait until tomorrow. The Senate's in -- will be in session next week after Thanksgiving. Get started on it. Let's get the facts out there. BLITZER: A lot of Democrats like you, by the way, including Senator

Franken himself, they've also called for an Ethics Committee investigation into his behavior, but a lot of the critics say that simply is not enough, and that could take a really long time. Remember, Senator Packwood you're referring to. That went on, what, for 30 months.

GARAMENDI: Well, I think it actually was before the Packwood. But it could be done rapidly. There are people out there, if there are people out there that Senator Franken has done this same boorish behavior with, they should be coming forward also. But that's the -- that's the appropriate way in this situation.

In the case of Alabama, there's another option. It's the election, and it's also an option for Moore to step aside at that point before he becomes a senator. Should he become a senator, I should hope that there would be an immediate ethics investigation that could and probably should lead to his removal from the Senate.

BLITZER: As you point out, this national conversation around sexual assault, sexual harassment, certainly shining a light on a lot of men out there all over the country, especially right now, those working up on Capitol Hill.

Several women, as you know, they've come out with their own personal accounts in the last week or so, including some of your Democratic colleagues in the House of Representatives.

Bottom line, Congressman, is there a culture, based on everything you know and everything you've seen and heard -- and you've been in Washington for a while -- of sexual misconduct up on Capitol Hill?

[17:15:08] GARAMENDI: Well, I think it's all across the nation. I'll come to Capitol Hill in a moment, but it's all across the nation.

Clearly, the president was engaged in this prior to his campaign. And so it's been a problem of -- for women in which men have used their power, their physical power, their economic power, their position power to really abuse women in any number of ways. And that has simply got to stop.

Has it been a problem on Capitol Hill? The answer is absolutely, yes. There's been multimillions dollars spent dealing with allegations that were then payments were made to women from perhaps many, many years. Members of Congress have left office, been forced out of office for inappropriate relationships with House pages. In fact, we no longer have pages because of that situation that occurred five or six years ago.

So, yes, it is a problem, but it's not just a problem in the legislative halls; it's a problem of male power over women. And that will end when women finally become equal in every way: in status, in pay, in roles around the nation; and when their stories become the truth and become the decision on whether a man has abused a woman in any number of ways. That's out there. I know that my daughters are looking forward to that day, as is my wife, and I would hope every woman around this nation would simply demand that it happen.

BLITZER: Congressman, there are more developments unfolding. We'll take a quick break, resume our interview right after this.


[17:21:19] BLITZER: The breaking news this hour: a source telling CNN that special counsel Robert Mueller is now trying to arrange talks with British publicist Rob Goldstone, who set up that 2016 Trump Tower meeting in New York City between a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump Jr.

We're back with Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of California. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, in the Senate, as you know, lawmakers are now calling on Jared Kushner's -- saying that Jared Kushner's disclosures are -- calling them into question. They say the documents he submitted to the Judiciary Committee are incomplete. That's their word.

This comes amid the news that Donald Trump Jr. exchanged direct messages with WikiLeaks on Twitter during the campaign. Then told Kushner about it over e-mail. The committee wants to see all of those e-mails. They have not yet been made available. In your view, does Kushner have a pattern now of failing to be fully transparent?

GARAMENDI: Oh, absolutely. And it's not just the e-mails that you're talking about. You talk about all of the questions that he was supposed to answer in order to get his security clearance. He didn't answer it completely. He went back -- I think it's been modified three times now.

And the e-mails. They're playing the game as old as the hills and that is, "Well, we give you what you asked for. You didn't ask for everything. If you ask for, be specific." It's a game.

But the game is ultimately going to end here. This drip, drip, drip over the last year is turning into a full torrent of information that's flowing out there.

This house of cards is coming down in a very, very rapid rate. You take a look at all of these things put together. You look at the Manafort indictments. You look at the guilty plea. You look at the question of Flynn. All of this is coming together.

It is extremely serious for our very fundamental operation of -- that's just democracy.

There is absolutely no doubt that Russia engaged in an election. We're getting more and more information that the president's campaign and people around the president were in cahoots, working with -- with the Russians, with WikiLeaks and others. Reaching out to the Russian ambassador to set up a back-channel process of communicating with Russia. It is serious. It is very, very serious.

We also know that Russia attempted to interfere with the vote count in multiple states across this nation, trying to hack into the state computers counting the votes. We've got to protect ourselves. We've got to finish this investigation with Trump, take it wherever it leads. If it leads to impeachment, so be it.

But also, we need to put in place safeguards, laws and penalties for people that are involved in these kind of activities, whether with Russia or anybody else.

BLITZER: It's one thing to attempt to do that, if the Russians did, attempt to do that. Do you have any evidence that he actually succeeded in changing votes?

GARAMENDI: The states say it didn't happen. I don't know if they did the forensic analysis in sufficient detail with regard to the way in which votes were counted.

Given the number of media or soft Internet work that was going on by the Russians, all of the tweets, the retweets, all of those activities, more than half of the American population read that false news that directly came from the government -- from the Russian government. Did that influence them along the way?

I can tell you from my own discussions with people very, very close to my family that I kept hearing over and over again those same allegations against Hillary Clinton that came directly from the Russian hackers that were out there and their farm that was putting out all that false information. It was precisely the same things.

They kept asking me, "Is it true this? Is it true this? Is it true that?" And where were they getting it? They were getting it off the Internet. You've got Google. You've got Facebook. You've got Twitter. All of these folks allowing their platforms to be used to debase...

BLITZER: All right.

GARAMENDI: ... to harm our electoral process. We've got to stop that from happening. And that takes a law in Congress. We must immediately, at the beginning of this next year, turn our attention to writing the law to protect the 2018 election and on into the 2020 presidential election.

BLITZER: Congressman Garamendi, thanks for joining us.

GARAMENDI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, the U.S. military confronts a rather troubling question, why hasn't Kim Jong-un ordered new missile or nuclear tests for more than two months?

Also there's more breaking news. The White House press secretary Sarah Sanders defending President Trump's Twitter attack on Senator Al Franken's sexual harassment scandal, even though the president is ignoring allegations women have made against him.


SANDERS: Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing and the president hasn't. I think that's a very clear distinction.



[17:30:00] BLITZER: Our breaking news this afternoon is White House briefing, the Press Secretary Sarah Sanders defended President Trump's Twitter attack on Senator Al Franken's sexual harassment scandal. Even though the president ignored allegations women have made against him. Quoting Sarah Sanders, Franken, "admitted wrongdoing and the president hasn't." She called that a very clear distinction. Let's bring in our Political and Legal Specialist, Mark Preston, what do you think of that defense?

MIKE PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: A couple of things. One, the president himself has not weighed in on this. He did it through a statement that was delivered by his press secretary. He was pressed about it when he was in Asia. He did not answer it then either. He punted and said we'll address this when I get back when I learn more. By the way, he said he didn't really understand what was going on over here when he was in Asia, which that in itself, I think, is ridiculous that he didn't know what was happening.

And in addition to that, I think one of the most interesting things that came out of this news conference today, this press conference, Wolf, was when Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked if all of the women who accused Donald Trump of these same allegations, accusations of sexual misconduct, why hasn't he sued them yet? If they're all liars, why hasn't he sued them yet? She didn't have an answer. She said I'll have to get back to you, I haven't talked to him about that. I really do hope the White House press corps asks that question again on Monday and say, do you have an answer?

BLITZER: Because he did say at the end of the campaign last year, after these, what, 13 women or so came out and made these accusations, he said they're all liars, and he said I will sue them. And it's been more than a year now, he still hasn't filed any lawsuits.

PRESTON: Correct. He threatened to do that and used his spokesperson for the free world from the White House lectern to say the same thing. Let's see why he's not doing it now.

BLITZER: Rebecca, the accusation against the president, he's being hypocritical, he's going after Senator Franken, but staying silent when it comes to Roy Moore.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, it doesn't take a genius to figure out why that is, Wolf, and it's all about politics. I mean, Al Franken's a Democrat; Roy Moore is a Republican, who the president has not condemned for his behavior because he wants a Republican to hold that seat in the United States Senate. This is about politics. And so, it's a little bit cynical, it's a little bit unfortunate that an issue like this has to be about politics. It's an issue most people that argue transcends politics, but the president obviously not in agreement with that.

BLITZER: You got some new reporting on Roy Moore's fund-raising since the scandal erupted.

BERG: I do. So, it might sound counterintuitive because of all of the negative attention that Roy Moore is getting. He's been cut off from fund-raising from NRSC and the Republican National Committee. But his campaign, it's online grassroots fund-raising, his Campaign Chairman Bill Armistead tells CNN, has skyrocketed since these allegations, since the national spotlight has shifted to their campaign. They've seen, according to a source close to the campaign, not Armistead, fund-raising topping six figures on several days in a row. Armistead says that they have raised more in the last six days online than the total raised online since the run-off September 26th. So, they're getting some gangbusters fund-raising now.

BLITZER: They're going to need all of that money, because take a look at this Fox poll, Ron. If you look at the Democratic Candidate, Doug Jones, he's got an eight-point lead over Roy Moore right now. That's pretty significant.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, Alabama is obviously a very steep hill for Democrats. But the same dynamic that carried them to victory in Virginia, and that is looming over Republicans for 2018 is what is propelling Doug Jones in this race. I mean, you see Roy Moore holding in this poll roughly three-quarters of Evangelical Christians.

He's ahead two to one among Whites without a college education -- may be a little below where he should be, but not too much. But the big change is as we saw in Virginia, college educated White voters -- especially women -- many of who traditionally vote Republican, probably, lean right of center on economic issues but culturally moderate, they are finding Roy Moore too tough to accept. And Doug Jones is now running, just about even, only two or three points behind; he's incredible in Alabama.

But it's consistent with what we saw a big movement among those voters toward Ralph Northam in Virginia. And it's -- what's looming, as I said, over 2018, just to button up the point. You know, the House this week just voted for a tax bill that will raise taxes on a lot of upper-middle-class, White-collar suburban around the major cities -- places like Philadelphia, Orange County, New Jersey, New York, and those are the Republicans who are most at risk. And if they're looking at this happening in Alabama, what does that mean for New Jersey?

[17:35:34] BLITZER: Yes. If the Democrat is elected as senator from Alabama, that's a huge, huge upset. Susan, you're a legal analyst, as you know, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, is now recommending, maybe the president should intervene and try to convince the leadership down in Alabama to delay the election that's scheduled for December 12th. But would it be legal to delay an election like that for partisan political purposes?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, FELLOW IN NATIONAL SECURITY IN GOVERNANCE STUDIES AT THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, so the governor of Alabama does have sort of broad authority to schedule a special election. What's not clear is whether or not she has the authority to reschedule an election, particularly under these circumstances. But even if it does pass muster under Alabama law, if they do, in fact, sort of pursue this route, they're certain to see legal challenges not just under state law but also under federal elections law. So certainly, you know, this is a fraught path legally for them to walk down.

BLITZER: The governor of Alabama says she's not going to do it. The secretary of state of Alabama told me earlier, that's not going to happen either. But, you know what, we'll see what happens. Everybody, standby. There's more news. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[17:41:10] BLITZER: We're back with our political and legal specialists. And Susan, let me get back to you. This letter that Senator Grassley, the Chairman of Judiciary Committee; Dianne Feinstein, Ranking Democrat, wrote -- they say they need more documents from Jared Kushner. Documents specifically concerning a Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite. They say he didn't provide those e-mails; he was supposed to provide it. Is he in any legal jeopardy right now? Because this shows a pattern repeatedly of information they seek they don't get.

HENNESSEY: Right. So, certainly, Jared has had a very difficult time, sort of, fully providing information as requested. We are still in the realm of voluntary cooperation, however, right? This is a request from the committee, it's not a subpoena.

I mean, so, he probably isn't yet in legal jeopardy. That letter specifically says, sort of, they're willing to extend the presumption of good faith. It says, you know, we assure you that you just overlooked these -- whatever you were looking in the document, production request.

What is significant here is that this is a bipartisan letter -- it's signed by both Grassley and Feinstein. That means that if the committee runs out of patience, they may be willing to actually issue subpoenas. Once we get into that territory, they can then challenge Kushner's nonproduction of documents and also try and pierce his claims of executive privilege as well.

BLITZER: That bipartisan effort, a very strong letter from the Republican chairman and the ranking Democrat down below of the lawyer representing Jared Kushner. Another fascinating development: there was an extraordinary exchange between two senators. The Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, the Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, on the tax bill. Let me play a clip of that.


SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: I just think it would be nice, just tonight, before we go home, to just acknowledge: well, this tax cut really is not for the middle class, it's for the rich. And that whole thing about higher wages, well, it's a good selling point, but we know companies don't just give away higher wages, they just don't give away higher wages just because they have more money. Corporations are sitting on a lot of money now, they're sitting on a lot of profits now. I don't see wages going up. So, just spare us the -- spare us the bank shots, spare us the sarcasm and the satire and --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: let's move --

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT), PRESIDENT PRO TEMPORE: I'm going to spare it, but I'm going to just say to you that I come from the poor people. And I've been here working my whole stinking career for people who don't have a chance, and I really resent anybody saying that I'm just doing this for the rich. Give me a break. I think you guys overplay that all the time and it gets old. And frankly, you ought to quit it.

BROWN: Mr. Chairman, the public believes it.

HATCH: Wait a minute. I'm not through.


HATCH: I get, kind of, sick and tired of it. True, it's a nice political play --

BROWN: Well, Mr. Chairman --

HATCH: But it's not true.

BROWN: With all due respect, I get sick and tired of the richest --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Regular order, Mr. Chairman. Regular order.

BROWN: We do a tax --


BROWN: Wait a minute --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Regular order --

BROWN: -- and over and over again. How many times do we do this before we learn this?

HATCH: Listen, I've honored you by allowing you to spout off here, and what you said was not right. That's all I'm saying. I come from the lower middle class, originally. We didn't have anything. So, don't spew that stuff on me. I get a little tired of that crap. And let me just say something, if you didn't -- if we work together, we can pull this country out of every mess it's in, and we can do a lot of things that you're talking about, too. And I think I've got a reputation of having worked together with Democrats.

BROWN: Let's start with CHIP

HATCH: I'm not starting with CHIP, I've done it for years. I've got more bills --

BROWN: Start with CHIP today. HATCH: I've got more bills passed than everybody on this committee

put together, and they've been passed for the benefit of people in this country. Now, all I can say is I like you personally very much, but I'm telling you, this bull crap that you guys throw out here really gets old after a while. To do it right at the end of this, was just not right, and I -- I just -- it takes a lot to get me worked up like this.


[17:45:09] BLITZER: CHIP is the children's health insurance program. The Joint Committee on Taxation, bipartisan, they took a look at the numbers over the next ten years. We'll put some of those graphics up on the screen. The numbers don't lie. The rich are going to do very well.

PRESTON: They are going to do very well. And, you know, the middle class will do OK from what we're told. But just that exchange right there, I think, just really illustrates how nerves right now are very much frayed on Capitol Hill, you know, at this point, and you're talking about emotions running high.

But I have to tell you, I'm OK with what we just saw there, because even though that was ugly, you know, that's democracy right now. You have Sherrod Brown, who's a progressive Democrat, very much for the left, fighting for what he thinks he's fighting for. Orrin Hatch who's been around for a very long time took that personally. In his heart, Orrin Hatch thinks he's is doing the right thing. That is actually healthy, and we should actually encourage that even when it gets ugly.

BLITZER: Everybody standby. There's more news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Deep concern, lots of questions right now about why Kim Jong-un hasn't ordered new missile or nuclear tests for more than two months. What is the North Korean dictator up to?


[17:50:09] BLITZER: Tonight there are growing questions about North Korea's unaccountable delay in nuclear and missile tests after a string of launches and suspected nuclear debt nations. We've now had just over two months of silence. Let's go to our Pentagon Correspondent, Barbara Starr. Barbara, what's the U.S. Military saying?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they're looking at this very closely. Why no weapons tests? Well, maybe it's the beginning of the winter weather season or maybe it's something else.


STARR: North Korea hasn't conducted a missile test in over two months. The silence since the since the last test, September 14th, now an urgent puzzle for U.S. Military intelligence. The U.S. special representative for North Korea policy says he doesn't know what's going on inside the regime's effort to build weapons that could attack the U.S.

JOSEPH YUN, U.S. SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR NORTH KOREA POLICY: I would hope that they would stop forever, you know, and, but we've had no communications from them. So, I don't know whether to interpret it positive or not.

STARR: Some U.S. officials say the North Korean pause in weapons testing may be due to pressure from China. But Defense Secretary James Mattis possibly sending a new signal to Pyongyang that there is a way out of the crisis short of the demand for the complete denuclearization of North Korea that President Trump has called for. Mattis, telling reporters: so long as they stop testing, stop developing, they don't export the weapons, there would be an opportunity for talks.

After Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in September suggested talks with North Korea, President Trump appeared to undermine him, tweeting: "I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with little rocket man." But inside the administration, some are wondering if counter to the president, Mattis, and Tillerson are knowingly playing the good cop role.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: They realize that the actual idea of denuclearizing the North Korean military is really far- fetched. It's not going to happen. North Korea is going to hold on to its nukes for as long as it possibly can, and they're not going to willingly give them up.

STARR: Kim, still may have other dire plans. The U.S. government believes North Korea is using a malware called "fall chill." Its cyber operatives may be hacking into financial institutions, stealing money to increase their cash flow for expensive weapons testing.

LEIGHTON: The North Koreans may be using this pause to in essence mine some money out of different hacks that they do.

STARR: North Korea's next weapons steps can include, working on a missile launching submarine. Commercial satellite imagery has revealed the latest efforts at their supposed shipyard complex.


STARR: U.S. officials also say North Korea appears to be trying to repair its underground nuclear weapons test site. So, nobody is betting that pieces at hand here that North Korea doesn't have plans for more weapons testing, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Barbara, thanks very much. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Coming up, a rather jarring joke from the attorney general, who failed to disclose his meeting with Russian officials.


[17:54:34] JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: But I just was thinking, you know, I should -- one I asked is, is Ambassador Kislyak in the room? Before I get started here. Any Russians?



BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, what Mueller wants? New moves by the special counsel: he's reaching out to a witness who may have crucial information about the infamous Trump Tower Russia meeting involving Donald Trump Jr. Stand by for all the new twists in the Russia investigation.

Selective outrage? The president tweets about the Al Franken groping allegation, mocking the Democrat, even as he refuses to personally weigh in on the fate of Republican Roy Moore. Tonight, the White House is attempting to draw distinctions between Franken's behavior and the president's.

[18:00:02] Tax brawl. Senators get into a shouting match over who would gain and who would lose in the GOP tax plan. The battle over a top priority for the president, getting more heated and a lot more personal.